Teacher Eric Nilsson
Steamboat Springs Some problems can't be solved with textbooks.
The students in Eric Nilsson's physics class at Steamboat Springs High School spent the past three months of school creating a robot to help the Steamboat Springs Police Department train with firearms. The robot was designed to roll around the Routt County Rifle Club and provide officers with more realistic shooting scenarios.
And it almost worked.
Students presented the robot, complete with a bulletproof shell, to officers during the last days of school in the hopes that the officers could use the training instrument during the summer. School Resource Officer Josh Carrell proposed the idea to Nilsson as a way to get students involved and to save the department money on a the device - the students were given a budget of $1,000, while a new robot would cost the department $1,200 to $5,000.
Students calculated the size of the batteries, the required strength of the motors and the size of the gearboxes to make the robot move at about the same speed a person can run. Nilsson said the students took over on the project, while he provided deadlines and motivation.
"It brings in all the stuff we're studying - momentum, electricity, power, weight. It all came together for a very nice project," he said.
The robot was the final project for the class and proved to be a challenge, students said.
"It was fun. It was definitely stressful at times because all we had from our teacher were deadlines," said Hanna Berglund, a junior in the class. She said the hardest part was putting the pieces together after the calculations had been finished.
"We had the components for a while, but it was just a matter of finishing the project."
The finished robot is a remote-controlled, four-wheeled box with a replaceable cardboard target on top. The Certified Welding & Fabrication shop donated the iron frame, while the students welded the pieces together and set the electronics.
Officers said the idea had been discussed with different classes during the past couple of years at the high school, but previous classes were unable to complete the project. The students didn't know this would be the final project for the yearlong class until three months ago.
"We were all surprised, even Mr. Nilsson," Berglund said.
The robot will be stored near the Routt County Rifle Club range, where police officers complete regular training sessions.
"We are going to be using it for our firearms training at the police department and our emergency response team," said Public Safety Director J.D. Hays. "It's a more realistic training for our officers."
Unfortunately, the robot has a few kinks to work out before it will be rolling in the line of fire, but that didn't stop the students from using the robot for practice of their own.
On the final day of class, six of the students arrived at the rifle range to test the 'bot, but one of its wheels lost power. Undeterred, students set up the robot at the end of the range and, under Carrell's supervision, shot at the target using handguns and an M-16 rifle.
"They learned that under every little problem is a big problem waiting to come out," Nilsson said.
He said the class project won't stop until the robot is functioning fully, even if that means the students continue to work on it a few weeks into the summer.
"This is the problem-solving I wanted them to see. It is completely different than a textbook problem," he said. "We're going to keep going until we get it right."
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